Friday, August 28, 2009

Rats! I Missed My Chance

I didn't vote in the '08 presidential election. But I think I would've if I'd known of the candidacy of Toyama Koichi. Not only does he render the "birther" arguments moot using blindingly-brilliant logic, he also doesn't co-opt lame pop songs for his campaign music.

Now, maybe I did vote for Toyama Koichi: at about 4:20 into this campaign spot, he does say that he's considering all abstentions, including the involuntary ones, as votes for him. But since I hadn't even heard of him at the time, I don't feel right about taking credit for supporting him.

His foreign-policy prescriptions are superb.

Oh, well, maybe he'll be a candidate again in '12. On second thought, that's kind of useless, too, due to the whole Mayan-calendar thing. Again: rats!

(Via IOZ and a comment thread there.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, August 26 Edition: Fastin' and Sabbathin'

Isaiah chapter 58 has something to say about both. First, the fasting:
"Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression,
And to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek Me day by day, and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness,
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
'Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?'
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one's head like a reed,
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is this not the fast which I chose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free,
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry,
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry,
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of streets in which to dwell."
And then, the sabbath:
"If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure,
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Compare this with Jesus's words, quoted in Matthew chapter 6:
"And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father Who is in secret; and your Father Who is in secret will repay you."
And the apostle Paul, from Romans chapter 14:
One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord,for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one of us dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
Among the words of the prophet, and the apostle, and the Lord Himself, one might superficially see conflict. I would suggest rather that there is underlying unity. It isn't so much what we do that's important, but why we do it. Does a fast consist of simply not eating? Or is it a deliberate -- and, in some ways, almost an arbitrary -- putting-aside of our own ways and purposes in favor of God's? Is it to piously parade our practice to enhance our reputation among each other, or to actually hide our devotions so that only God can see them? Is what what we eat, or what day (if any) we observe; or is it that we direct our practices to God, with gratitude?

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Current Lustration

"Lustration" is defined as a ceremonial purification (as opposed, sharply, to a real one), and is what the Rainbow Brite administration has embarked upon:
Holder said Monday he had chosen a veteran prosecutor, John Durham, to open a preliminary investigation to determine whether any CIA officers or contractors should face criminal charges for crossing the line on rough but permissible tactics. Durham already is investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videos.

At the same time, President Barack Obama ordered changes in future interrogations, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under the direction of the FBI and to be supervised by his own national security adviser. The administration pledged that questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual, with strict rules, and said the White House would keep its hands off the professional investigators doing the work.

Despite the announcement of the criminal probe, White House aides declared anew that Obama "wants to look forward, not back" at Bush-era tactics.

White House officials said they plan to continue the controversial practice of rendition of suspects to foreign countries, though they said that in future cases there would be greater safeguards to ensure such suspects are not tortured.
Ah, yes: "look forward, not back." Concerning which, a few things:

(1) Nothing that the "we're continuing extraordinary renditions" Obama regime will ever do will threaten even the smallest inconvenience -- much less anything approaching "justice" -- to anyone named Bush, or Cheney, or Yoo, or Goss. No one with a rank above Junior Spear-Carrier in the CIA or the military (as if there's a difference!) will be troubled at all ... certainly no one who wears a necktie to work every day. The focus of Holder's investigation will be narrow, indeed.

(2) Torture didn't start with the Bushies. And it most certainly did not end with their junta, either.

(3) Rainbow Brite's definitely looking forward -- to the time when he leaves office. He's clearly not interested in establishing a precedent whereby prominent war criminals are held to answer for their crimes. Gee ... I wonder why not? Hmmmmmm.

Finally, let's hear from Darth Cheney:
And former Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that the CIA's interrogation of terror suspects "saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks." In a statement, Cheney said those who carried out the interrogations "deserve our gratitude" and do not deserve "to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions."
No, those who carried out the interrogations deserve to have to go through the remainder of their lives wearing a bell, so that decent people -- assuming there are any -- may be warned of their approach. As for the likes of Cheney: well, he deserves to spend eternity just being himself. Eternally.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Doctorin', Part 2

My radio was on as I went from the Y to the day job this morning, and I got another dose of the Conventional Wisdom, served up hot and (not so) fresh by NPR. Sorry, no link, but unless you've been doing the hermit-in-a-cave thing, I'm sure you've heard it, too. I'm talking about how President Rainbow Brite is destined to lose the left unless he serves up a "public option" to compete with private insurers.

Ah, yes, compete. Bear with me while I take a digressive stroll down Memory Lane.

I spent the last four years of the previous millennium serving on a school board. I'll be coy about which one, but let's just say that its initials were E, A, C, and S, and that The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette was not even slightly amused, not at any time. It was an experience from which I emerged with unexpected respect and more than a little affection for many people, contrary to my expectations; and from which I also emerged convinced that "schools" probably aren't a very good idea, and that schools operated by governments are a hideously bad idea. Anyway, it was the system's policy at that time (and may still be -- I don't know for sure) to provide transportation, on a noninterference basis, to kids in the district attending private schools, as well as EACS schools. By "noninterference," I mean that we didn't have routes that went deliberately to Saint So-and-So's Parish School; but a kid living in the district was quite welcome to climb on our bus at the point where an existing route passed closest to his or her house, and climb off again at that route's closest approach to his or her school. Those parents, after all, were being taxed at the same rates as all others in the district, so why not?

Well, our superintendent (who was, by the way, quite an excellent one) knew why not. As he saw it, we were locked in a struggle to the death with those private and parochial schools, and anything we could do to make those schools a less-attractive choice was obviously what we should do. As he put it, "you don't see McDonald's providing buses to take people to Burger King."

He'd have had a good point, except for the radical asymmetry of the "competition" he wanted to have with those other schools. As I replied to him at the time, you also don't see McDonald's putting a gun to everyone's head in order to secure its revenue stream, as we were most assuredly doing.

The same thought returns to me when I consider the "competition" between a (quasi-semi-demi-)private insurer, on the order of Blue Cross, and AmeriCare or whatever our supervisors will call the golem they assemble. It won't matter how well or how poorly it's run; it will axiomatically be "too big to fail."

Competition, indeed. Anyone want to start a new car company today, while looking up the bad end of the shotgun barrel of Government Motors?

The Word for ... Uhhhh, Thursday, Again

Yes, never mind my excuses. Even I am tired of my excuses. Much better to spend a little time in Isaiah chapter 55, which is joy unmixed with any sorrow:
"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
Behold, I have made him a faithful witness to the peoples,
A leader and a commander for the peoples.
Behold, you will call a nation you do not know,
And a nation who knows you not will run to you,
Because of the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel;
For He has glorified you."

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are My ways your ways," declares the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth,
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
For you will go out with joy,
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up;
And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up;
And it will be a memorial to the Lord,
For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off."
What I take from this is that right desires are fulfilled in the will of God without question -- almost automatically, as it were. How few of our desires, in our corrupt and fallen state, are right ones! Left to our own devices, everything that we want (or that advertising convinces us that we want) costs money, and plenty of it. And indeed it does not satisfy; to the contrary, I think what it mostly does is to perpetuate itself, virus-style, sowing the seeds of still more futile wantings. All that is needed is to repent our evil and stupidity and come to the God Who is ready to abundantly pardon (His ways and thoughts differing radically from ours) and give us what is good and does satisfy and does give life.

Somewhat less cheerfully, I also hear a "future echo" here of Jesus, in the final days before His death, saying (Matthew 23:37 -39): "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!' "

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Doctorin', Part 1

Very, very few of us are competent to doctor ourselves. Doctoring is one of those things we "hire done." But it isn't the only such thing. Your typical Americano has no business doing his or her own plumbing, or wiring. Car repair is a specialist job. Made your own clothing lately? Made any shoes? Written a web browser? Raised (and slaughtered and butchered) your own beef cattle?

For how many of these functions, which you count on skilled others to perform, do you have, or need, insurance?

The doctoring seems unique in this way. I believe the problem is supposed to be that many Americans can't afford to get medical attention when they need it, and the alleged debate over the solution is framed in terms of obtaining insurance (not doctoring) for those Americans. If a poor man goes naked to his government, crying out for help, he'll presumably be given clothing, or maybe money to go and buy clothing. No one thinks he needs garment insurance. If he's homeless, someone may invite him indoors to a warm place to sleep; it probably wouldn't occur to them that what he really needs is a shelter policy.

Yes, we're told, but medical care's different. It's really, really expensive. True, it is. We should think about why that is; and there are, I think, several reasons, which I'd like to consider in subsequent posts here. For now, though, let me suggest that "perverse incentives" to all of us, as consumers of medical services, abound. In my own case: I have a job, one benefit of which is pretty good medical insurance. That means I make a number of choices about whether to consume a given service or not, in which my out-of-pocket cost is not a factor; that is, my "coverage" costs me the same amount whether I use such-and-such service or not. The contingent or optional cost is, from my point of view, something that Someone Else pays.

Do you suppose that my arrangement, multiplied by the large number of people like me, might tend to increase the total money being spent on medical matters?

Relative to what?, one might ask.

More about this tomorrow, I hope.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Word for Wednesday for Thursday

Late again this week, but not so much as last week.

To Isaiah chapter 53, I can add nothing, nor -- I trust -- do I need to:
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face,
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off from the land of the living,
For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence.
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
From one of the transgressors: thank You, Lord.

Click here for more Words for Wednesday. Even if it is Thursday.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Word for Wednesday for Saturday

Toldja ... that day job has me doing everything but resting, the last couple of weeks. In fact, I'm there right now, enjoying my tasty lunch out of my green-and-gray insulated lunchbox. Let's see ... a yogurt ("fruit on the bottom," cherry), crackers, an apple, a banana. I know, not really what you'd call your gourmet treat. But it was really quick to throw in the box last night before I went to bed.

So, where were we? In Isaiah, of course. My last WFW post concerned chapter 46, and my bookmark is currently at chapter 49 -- yep, my reading's been neglected. As we're about to read, though, in the first thirteen verses of chapter 49, the Lord has taken care of everything, in the person of Jesus:
Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword;
In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me,
And He has also made Me a select arrow;
He has hidden Me in His quiver.
And He said to Me, "You are my servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory."
But I said, "I have toiled in vain,
I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;
Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the Lord,
And My reward with My God."

And now says the Lord, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant,
To bring Jacob back to Him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him
(For I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
And My God is My strength).
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and its Holy One,
To the despised One,
To the One abhorred by the nation,
To the Servant of rulers,
"Kings shall see and arise,
Princes shall also bow down;
Because of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You."

Thus says the Lord, "In a favorable time I have answered You,
And in a day of salvation I have helped You;
And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people,
To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages;
Saying to those who are bound, 'Go forth,'
To those who are in darkness, 'Show yourselves.'
Along the roads they will feed,
And their pasture will be on all bare heights.
They will not hunger or thirst,
Neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down;
For He who has compassion on them will lead them,
And will guide them to springs of water.
And I will make all My mountains a road,
And My highways will be raised up.
Behold, these shall come from afar;
And lo, these will come from the north and from the west,
And these from the land of Sinim."
Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people,
And will have compassion on His afflicted.
I do think that all of the Bible is properly to be regarded as being about Jesus, although a lot of it is pretty indirectly about Him. But it always seems to me like a big treat when Jesus shows up, directly and personally, in an Old Testament book like Isaiah. There He is, a living enigma, somehow fully human and fully God at the same time, worthy of every honor and yet accepting every abuse, insult, and patronizing dismissal as if they were acceptable, which they aren't except that He somehow accepts them. There He is, knowing the end from the beginning, all times perpetually present to Him except that He somehow also entered into our creaturely relationship to time when He took on our flesh. There He is, loving me in spite of what I've made of myself, and making me able to do whatever I have to in order to follow Him. There He is, and He says, "I AM," and I say, "He is." Soon enough, I will see Him face to face. Soon enough, I will know even as I am known.

Soon enough.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

No Productivity

I'll write a post again someday. The day job has been severely -- I mean severely -- consuming what should be my online time. Thus does The Man keep us down. But the people will rise up against the oppressor!

Later this week, maybe ...